Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings

By St. Thomas Aquinas; Albert the Great et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

I. THE LIFE AND WORKS OF ALBERT 1

When Albert died in 1280 he was already something of a legend. Even in his own lifetime, contrary to all normal academic etiquette, he was being treated as an "authority" in the schools, on a par with the ancients; 2 and a Dominican preacher in Paris could refer with evident proprietary satisfaction to "our philosopher, bishop Albert." 3 Albert's friend, fellow-Dominican and pupil, Ulrich of Strasbourg, describes him as "so godlike (divinus) in every branch of knowledge that he can aptly be called the wonder and the miracle of our time." 4 Unfortunately, though, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the biographical details of this remarkable man.

At the time of his death he was more than eighty years old; that is solidly attested. 5 So he was born toward the end of the twelfth century. He called himself "Albert of Lauingen," 6 but this might mean either that he was born in Lauingen, a small town on the Danube not far from Ulm, or that Lauingen was his family name. The medieval biographers mostly assume the former interpretation, 7 and they have in general been followed by modern writers; Scheeben found confirmation of Albert's childhood in Lauingen in a text in De Animalibus 7.1.6.65, where Albert comments on the habits of fish that he had observed "in my estate on the Danube," 8 but this can equally well, if not better, be understood not of the family home, but of the episcopal residence where Albert lived as bishop of Regensburg. 9 There do not appear to be any explicit childhood reminiscences in Albert's works which unambiguously indicate where he grew up. 10

Recently the possibility that Lauingen should be taken as a family name has received more attention. 11 Albert's brother Henry, also a Dominican, was known as Henry of Lauingen, 12 and there is some evidence that the Lauingen family had Austrian connections as well as those closer to the place from which the family name derived. 13 This makes it possible that we should look much further afield for Albert's birthplace. 14 But in the absence of any more conclusive evi

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